Monday 1 February 2016

How to Stop Wasting Time: A Guide to Effective Meetings

This is a guest post from Brian Neese and Alvernia University.

“Productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it is almost everything,” economist Paul Krugman wrote in his book The Age of Diminished Expectations in the early 1990s. “A country’s ability to improve its standard of living over time depends almost entirely on its ability to raise its output per worker.”
More than two decades later, the focus on productivity is stronger than ever. A multitude of time management methods, articles, books and tools inundate the business world. Around $28 billion was spent on business and professional apps alone in 2013, according to a report from VisionMobile. The market is expected to reach $58 billion by the end of 2016.
But as businesses dwell on productivity, many are ignorant about unnecessary and time-consuming meetings. Changes are needed to prevent further loss of time, money and productivity.

The Current State of Meetings

According to Atlassian, half of all business meetings are considered a waste of time. Most employees attend 62 meetings each month, creating 31 hours of time spent in unproductive meetings. Harvard Business Review reports that 15 percent of an organization’s collective time is spent in meetings. A weekly executive committee meeting consumed 300,000 hours in a year, due to ripple effects handed down in a large company.
Research from Attentiv shows that for the average nine participants in a meeting, they regard a third of their time spent in the meeting as unproductive. The culprit to wasted time in meetings may be lack of preparation and decision making. Sixty-three percent of meetings were conducted without a pre-planned agenda, and few meetings actually led to any decisions. The following complaints, in order, offer insight into the problems with meetings.
  • Inconclusive or no decisions made
  • Poor preparation
  • Disorganization
  • Domination by individuals
  • No published results
The true culprit may be unnecessary meetings. Nearly half of meeting attendees complained that meetings were the top time-waster at the office, and nearly half felt overwhelmed by the number of meetings they attended, according to Atlassian. Ninety-six percent missed meetings, 91 percent daydreamed during meetings, 73 percent did other work during meetings, and 39 percent slept during meetings.
The estimated salary cost of unnecessary meetings for U.S. businesses is $37 billion. Attentiv estimates the average salary cost of a meeting to be $338, which does not include high-paid CEOs and other business leaders. Those meetings can cost upwards of $20,000 each.

How to Save Time and Money

Avoid Unnecessary Meetings

If half of all meetings are unnecessary, then a natural first step is to eliminate pointless meetings. Harvard Business Review offers a few questions that can help determine how to react to meeting requests:
  • Is this meeting a team priority? If no, decline.
  • Is this my priority? If no, delegate.
  • Is a meeting the best solution? If no, block time in your calendar to do the task.
  • If yes for all questions, determine how to make the meeting as efficient as possible.

David Hassell recommends only using meeting time for decision-making. “Information-gathering should always be performed prior to meetings,” says the 15Five CEO. “When everyone is already informed, the team can debate important issues and create a clear plan of action instead of wasting precious time bringing everyone up to speed.”
Stop automatically accepting meetings. Meetings are often unnecessary or replaceable.

Explore Other Methods of Collaboration

“Don’t schedule a meeting for something that can be addressed in a phone call, and don’t make a phone call for something that can be communicated via e-mail,” says Harvard Business Review. Other methods of collaboration are often much quicker than a typical meeting.
Remember that cumulative time is what matters. If an informational email takes an hour for one person to prepare, it is better than the two cumulative hours required for four people in a half-hour meeting. In this case, avoiding a meeting cuts the time and salary cost in half.
Explore other collaboration methods when meetings are unnecessary. Alternative methods of collaboration often will be much more effective and efficient than meetings.

Improve Necessary Meetings

If meetings are needed, take conscious steps to prevent wasting time and money.
  • Write an actionable agenda (in advance). Prior to a meeting, send out an agenda including the length of the meeting and what topic(s) it will cover. A more productive meeting can take place when attendees are aware of what will be discussed.
  • Prepare for the meeting. Plan what you will cover in the meeting. Or, if you’re an attendee, note any ideas or questions you have that add value to the discussion.
  • Limit attendees. Aim for no more than six or seven people. A larger group turns attendees into spectators.
  • Begin on time. A 10-minute delay for six people costs an hour of combined productivity. Begin the meeting without the latecomer(s) if possible, and explore strategies to ensure everyone arrives on time.
  • Keep the meeting short. Calendars default to half-hour increments, but if 15 or 45 minutes will suffice, schedule the meeting for that length instead of 30 or 60 minutes. Unfortunately, Parkinson’s law — when work expands to fill the time available — often applies to meetings.
  • Stay on track. It’s easy to go off on a tangent. Interject when necessary to save these types of conversations for the end of the meeting. Attendees who need to get back to work can leave at that point.
  • Define next steps. No meeting is complete without covering decisions and next steps. Ensure that attendees understand their responsibilities and deadlines.
“Meetings are one of the biggest disruptors of at-work productivity and have come to dominate the workday, when in reality creative work should be the core focus of every day,” according to Moz. By eliminating meetings, replacing meetings with other forms of collaboration and improving the efficiency of meetings, businesses can reclaim the vast amounts of time and money lost in meeting rooms.

Enhancing Efficiency in the Workplace

Improving workplace productivity is central to leading any type of organization. In your career, this will be crucial for pursuing new job opportunities and succeeding in these roles. At Alvernia University, our online MBA helps you discover your potential as a leader. In a completely online learning environment, you can gain the knowledge and skills to move into management-level positions, start your own business or reach other professional goals.

Be remarkable.

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